A few months ago I was in a big diabetes burnout funk, with Masters work plus being in my second year of teaching and trying to not turn into a studying, exam-marking hermit putting diabetes at the very bottom of my ‘can I be bothered’ list.
However, about a month ago, I was able to try the FreeStyle Libre at DX2 Sydney*. I spent two days at this event, meeting people from Abbott Diabetes as well as finally putting names to faces of other Australian diabetes bloggers. Essentially we were there to learn about the FreeStyle Libre – and we were lucky enough to get to try it for free. There’s been a lot written about this in the Aussie diabetes blogosphere lately, but I blame writing reports and Masters assignments for my tardiness. Once you’ve written “Student X demonstrates sound grammatical knowledge” seventy-five times, any non-compulsory writing makes you want to cry.
What is it?
This little glucose sensor is about the size of a 20 cent coin, and is inserted into the back of your arm. To check your levels, all you have to do is scan the sensor with the accompanying meter (you literally just hold it near the sensor) and the number will appear almost instantly. We had very knowledgable scientists talk to us about the science behind it (which went right over my head), but rest assured that the research and testing of this tiny little device is amazing. Essentially, the Libre measures the glucose in your interstitial fluid. Do you know what that is? Me neither. Do I know now? No, I can’t even pronounce it, but I do know that after giving it around 12 hours to settle in, my readings were nearly the same as my blood sugar meter. If my blood sugar meter was 6.5, my Libre was 6.7 or vice-versa. It lasts for a fortnight (and no, you can’t trick it into continuing – more on that later).
What I loved about it
- The accuracy – after the settling in period (I would recommend inserting it before you go to bed) it was bang on.
- The trends – when it reads your blood sugar, it will give you a glucose trend arrow, saying whether you’re trending up, down, or steady. You also get an eight-hour trend history with the meter, so for the visual learners amongst us you can get a fantastic image of what your blood sugar has been doing. The only thing I really liked about the CGM was that ability to see what your sugars are doing, and a trend graph, and the Libre does that without sticking out like a weird growth or alarming at me constantly.
- The convenience – I can test anywhere. At a red light in my car, during a sport game, at work…it was AMAZING for work – being able to check in 3 seconds and continue teaching was invaluable. I felt safer at work, as I’m developing hypo unawareness and I could check every 5 minutes without interrupting the flow of the lesson. Additionally, I had a wild night a few days after inserting the Libre, and people around me were able to check my BGLs and force feed me sugar while I hypo-yelled at them to stop. Convenience for everyone!
- The low-maintenance – insert it, and forget about it. I’ve been in burnout and being able to give my fingers a break for two weeks was exactly what I needed to get back on the diabetes wagon. I’ve noticed since coming off the Libre that I’m testing more often, which can only be a good thing. I was testing up to 30 times a day on the Libre, and now I’m up to around 6 times a day back on my old finger pricker. Progress!!
- the cost – I know it can’t be avoided, and it is amazing technology which comes at a price, but at this point in my life on a para-professional wage I can’t afford to have it full time. In a few years when my pay rise comes, I’ll be a regular customer, but for now I’ll be using it as a “get Georgie out of burnout” tool
- not a CGM – this is really important to remember. The Libre is not a CGM. It is a different system, with different positives and negatives, and what may work for one person with the Libre may not work for another. It’s Flash Glucose Monitoring, so it’s intended to replace finger pricks. It doesn’t have the inbuilt alarms or communication to your pump that a CGM does, because it’s not a CGM. If you’re someone that loves the CGM alarms and integration (I don’t), the Libre may not be worth your time.
- reliability – there were a few times that I’d go to test and it wouldn’t work. After talking to a few others, it seems as though this happens when you’re super hot or you’ve had a big change in body temperature. It would only be grumpy for a minute or so though, so not a big factor for me.
- stickiness – Are you like me and sweat like a middle-aged marathon runner every time you engage in any physical activity? If so, and you like the sound of the Libre, invest in some Rockadex, or at least physio tape. I sweat A LOT, and after ten days my Libre started to peel off and I had to ask my housemate to stick it down with tape for me. I went around for the next four days looking like I’d sustained a perfectly circular upper arm injury.
- non-hackiness – You can’t trick the Libre into continuing past the 14 days expiry like you can with the CGM (my DNE always covers her ears when any PWD talks about this!). Trust me, I’ve tried. Once the fortnight is up, that’s it.
Placement – only the upper arm has been approved, and when I insert my second Libre I will go much more towards the underside of my arm. There’s less risk of you bumping it when it’s tucked securely under your arm. It hasn’t been approved for anywhere else, but if you were hypothetically going to try another place, I have hypothetically heard that it works well there too. Hypothetically.
Insertion – it doesn’t hurt at all!! I’m a sook with pump site insertions and I was nervous, but I felt nothing. I would advise inserting it before bed, so it has time to warm up and you can start your day with accurate BGLs!
I love it. For someone like me whose main barrier to management is testing, the Libre makes it so easy. Again, for my lifestyle, which involves a lot of exercise and activity, the trends are invaluable. I love that it’s small, I love that it’s easy – I just don’t love that the price is a barrier for me and many others. Hopefully future Georgie will be able to afford it, and for now I’ll dig into my savings every few months when I need some bionic blood test help.
*Disclosure (taken straight from Renza’s blog as I’m too lazy to write my own and it sums it up perfectly).
DX2Sydney was being coordinated and run by Abbott Diabetes Care. The costs for me to attend the two day event (travel, accommodation, meals and transfers) were covered by Abbott. All attendees received Freestyle Libre products (one scanner and two sensors) so we could trial the new device.
There was no expectation that I would write about the event or my thoughts of the device. Abbott may have paid for me to attend, but they did not pay for my words on this blog, social media activity or anywhere else. I like to share, so that’s why I decided to write about my experience.